A Plant I Like

Most people who have seen my garden this season have asked me what the giant thistle is.  Believe it or not, the plant is a giant thistle better known as a globe artichoke.  Each year, I try to plant one or two things that I have never grown before.  In the past, this has included kholrabi, fennel and broccoli raab.  After the Notorious B. I. G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) made fried artichokes for us, I decided that the artichoke was going to be in my garden for the first time this season.

The globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) is a perennial thistle of the genus Cynara originating in Southern Europe around the Mediterranean. It grows tall, with arching, deeply lobed, silvery-green leaves 10–20 inches long.  The flowers develop in a large head from an edible bud about 3–5 inches in diameter with numerous triangular scales.  The individual florets are purple.  The edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions and the base, known as the “heart”; the mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the “choke” or beard.  These are inedible in older larger flowers.

I grew my plants from seeds under the grow light in the basement.  The seeds are a variety known as Imperial Star.  Specifically bred for annual production, Imperial Star produces artichokes the first season from seed.  Typically 6-8 mature buds, averaging 3-4 inches in diameter, are grown per plant.  Imperial Star plants grow 3-4 feet tall.

My artichoke plants in the garden have really flourished.  They seem to grow every hot and humid day that we have.  So far, they have required little, if any, special attention.  The next phase should be the flowering of the plants and then the formation of the artichoke that we know and can eat.  I’ll keep you posted on our fun new find as the plants continue to mature during this gardening season.

P. S. –  for those of you who read the cabbage murder mystery post, notice my sad cabbage plants in the back of this picture.  As well, notice the bowl of beer or as we call it in my garden, the slug’s swimming pool.  Not looking good for some home-grown cabbage this year!!

What’s Blooming – Another Virtual Garden Tour

This is one of my begonias that opened up a number of fiery hot blooms this week.  This begonia, ‘Bonfire,’ is a variety of tuberous B. boliviensis.  It wasn’t the only fiery hot thing going one here at Glen Road this week.  The weather actually decided to push up to 100 degrees for several days this week meaning lots of watering to keep the garden supple.  Come with me to see what else was braving the heat and blooming full and lush this week.  Besides begonia ‘Bonfire’, here’s what else was out there in full glory:

So tell me, what’s blooming in your neck of the woods?

First Casualty In The Garden…A Murder Mystery

It happens every year.  You plant your garden and know deep down inside of you that there will be some sort of problem that happens before you even harvest your first vegetable.  You get yourself ready for the disappointment.  You think about what will be the type of bug that wipes something out.  If it is not a bug, maybe some sort of critter.  You look at all of your plantings and try to figure out which one will be affected.  You vow to do your best to combat whatever it is that is hurting your garden.  Then it happens.  This year, I’m calling the problem “The Case Of The Murdered Cabbages”.  I swear to you that three hours after planting my cabbage plants, I returned to the garden to find the little plants munched down to almost nothing by some sort of villain.  The problem is that I just couldn’t figure out who the culprit was.

What would do this so quickly and thoroughly?  While I was digging some cabbages up and replacing them with new plants and trimming the little arms of others, it dawned on me.  It was a woodchuck.  Why you ask?  Well, the Notorious B. I. G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) had mentioned that she saw a furry animal running around the back yard a couple of times during the week.  Since raccoons only come out at night, I just knew it was a woodchuck she had seen and the same critter ate my baby cabbages.  Remember, the fence around the back yard keeps the deer out, so my only logical solution had to be that a woodchuck had squeezed under the fence and ate my cabbages.  Always having a flair for the dramatic, I quickly put a two-step plan of action in motion.  First, I would put a small fence around my new raised beds.  Yes, it is a fence within a fence.  I quickly worked to build a small green plastic fence around my two new raised beds and then the new secured garden would have the deer fence around it as well for added protection.  Second, I would call a local hunter that I knew from the area and have him lay a couple of humane traps.  The traps would catch the critter and then we could transport it to a far away wooded area where it could eat dead leaves and weeds.  That’s what a woodchuck eats for dinner…not baby cabbage plants.  The fence was installed….the traps were laid……all was good in cabbage land.

Then it happened again!  Nearly a week later.  When I saw the little nibbled purple cabbage plants, I got weak in my knees.  How could this happen again?  After spending $200 on my make-shift fence and trapping a raccoon, a squirrel and some other type of critter that my friend told me I didn’t want to know about, the cabbage murderer was still stalking the premises.  I felt violated.  I felt angry.  I wanted revenge.

It was off to the nursery for some more cabbage plants.  I had run out of the ones that I grew from seeds under my grow light.  At the nursery, I told my murder mystery story to anyone who would listen.  One of the nursery employees told me that it sounded like a slug infestation.  Slugs?  Those little snail-like creatures without a shell?  Could they do this much damage?  Can they eat this much?  I left with some new cabbage plants and some Sluggo, an organic pellet that kills slugs dead.  I also put out two bowls filled with beer.  Slugs like their booze.  When they reach for the beer, they fall into the suds and then that’s it for them.  They drown, but drown drunk, which is probably the best way to go in my opinion.  So far the Sluggo and beer seem to be working.  My cabbages seem to be growing.

I’ll keep you posted.  Also, if you see the displaced raccoon, squirrel and the unnamed creature that I had transported to another wooded area, let them know I am sorry and I will pick them up and bring them back to Glen Road on Saturday afternoon.  As well, let me know if you have any ideas (other than a slug) on what is eating my cabbage.  Help me solve “The Case Of The Murdered Cabbages”.

Oh Deer!

It happens every year.  When you least expect it, a deer helps itself to a big serving of our garden.  Most of the time, they do it right before you planned to do some “anti-deer” work to prevent the damage.  When I decided a few Sundays ago that it was going to be the day to spray deer repellant on the plants in our front yard, it shouldn’t have surprised me that the night before, our local deer made a date to eat a few things in the area to be sprayed.  Just to remind me that they exist, just to remind me that they are smart.  Just to remind me that they have planted a bug inside our house…..it was if they were in the room when I announced my deer repellent plans a few weeks back.

The good news is that the deer in our area only have a couple of small gardens that they can get to on our property.  These gardens are in the front of the house.  The majority of our gardens are in the back of the house where we had a six-foot metal deer fence installed to keep them out.  The black metal fence snakes through the woods and seems invisible when all of the plants and trees are fully fleshed out during Spring, Summer and most of the Fall.  People tell us that a deer could jump our six-foot fence, but please don’t tell them that because they have never attempted it.  The fence allows us to plant a large amount of plants outside and not have to worry about damage from grazing deer.  The battle against the deer is only in the front of the property.  The front yard is the battle field.

Here’s the only rub when deer graze in the front yard.  Everything planted in the front yard was labeled “deer resistant” at the point of purchase.  The front gardens contain such deer downers as peony, bleeding hearts, boxwood, monarda and echinacea.  Plants that just don’t taste good to a deer…or so I thought.  I quickly realized that there aren’t any plants that are truly deer resistant.  These plants (like the Monarda that got eaten in the above pictures) are really just ones that deer don’t care for as part of a regular well-balanced deer meal, but if they are hungry enough, they will eat them.  So we do our best to keep our front gardens protected.  We continue to spray deer repellent a few times a month (it really works well) and, when the deer take time to have dinner in our garden, we do our best to trim the damage and hope that what they ate left a bad taste in their mouths.  A bad enough taste to stay away…..but it never is.

What’s Blooming – Our First Virtual Garden Tour of 2012

If you garden much, you become very familiar with transitions.  Moving from one phase to another is a pretty common occurrence when you are dealing with soil, seeds, plants, sun and rain.  My flower gardens are ending a big transition right now.  The fury of Spring blooming is coming to an end and we are now entering the Summer period when bloomers tend to act much more slowly, but the beauty seems to be worth the wait.  Take a little look at what’s happening in the gardens right now (you can click on any picture to start a slide show).

You Reap What You Sow, So Here’s What I Sowed

First planted seed of 2012 in my garden – it’s a green bean seed.

Deciding what to plant in my two new raised garden beds should have been a lot easier than it actually was.  Given my space restrictions, it is important for me to answer a few questions on what I am going to grow and not grow each planting season.  First, I always ask:

What types of vegetables do I like to eat?

Now comes the second question:

Of these vegetables, which ones can I plant knowing they will give me a fair return?  I do not want to plant something that only produces two or three items in a season.  I want volume from the plants I grow in my garden.

Finally, I ask myself:

Is there anything exotic out there to grow that I would like to tackle this season?  This year the answer was artichokes.

A lone beet seed.

So here is what made it into my two new raised beds this year.  As was the case last year, the majority of these seeds were purchased from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and are organic and not genetically modified.  I also tried a new seed supplier this year, Fedco Seeds, and the seeds are also organic and not genetically modified.  Interestingly enough, both companies are in Waterville, Maine.  Here’s what made it:

  • Purple Top White Globe Turnips
  • Blue Lake Green Beans – Bush
  • Specialty Spring Broccoli Raab**
  • Mayfair Shell Peas – this is my first year planting shell peas.  I am going to have them grow up a piece of livestock paneling that I bought at a local farm implement store.
  • Three Root Grex Beet – multi-colored beets all in one seed packet.
  • Early Green Tendersweet Cabbage**
  • Imperial Star Globe Artichokes** – my experiment this year.  Already, the two artichoke plants seem to be the most hearty in the garden.
  • Italian Traviata Eggplant**
  • Olympus Green Peppers**
  • Celebrity Red Short Vine Tomato**
  • Green Zebra Tall Vine Tomato**
  • Mariana Tomato** – supposed to provide a superior tomato for sauce and salsa.

** = seeds were planted early Spring and grown into plants under my grow light.

I am glad to say that all of the seeds and plants are in the ground and just need to grow.  As well, I appreciated the fact that my two new beds are built so I can go on all sides of the two rectangles with ease.  My old garden didn’t allow for easy access to all sides of the beds.  Here’s hoping for a strong growing season this year!  How is your garden growing so far this season?

All lined up and ready to grow. Two more green bean seeds placed in my garden.

A Garden With Sun…Such A Novel Idea

I’m very proud of my new piles of dirt.  Actually, this is one of two new raised bed garden plots that I’m using this season to grow vegetables.  I think it is hard to garden here in Connecticut.  Much harder than what I remember when I used to garden with my family in Iowa.  I have fought hard against all the various critter attacks on my garden, the soil filled with rocks of all sizes and shapes and the long periods of rain followed by long periods of heat.  What I wasn’t prepared for was when I discovered the raised beds I had constructed last year didn’t seem to get enough sun.  When everything just stopped growing when the trees took on all of their leaves, I knew I was in trouble.  I thought I should give up gardening.  However, I realized that even without much produce from my own garden, the whole process was a valued hobby and I enjoyed my time in the yard and in the garden.  It was time to build some more raised beds, but this time I needed to find a spot with sun.  A novel idea if I say so myself!  A garden?  With sun?  Who would have figured!

The two new raised beds are right in the back yard protected inside the 6 foot deer fence that surrounds the property.  The spot is not as optimal as the old garden site, but there is no doubt that it receives very long periods of direct sunlight.  The sun shines for hours and hours on the spots.  So it is time for the planting to begin.  Every year I’m surprised what happens along the gardening journey.  I’m sure there will be plenty of surprises this year as well…..realizing that the garden doesn’t get enough sun should not be one of them.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

2011’s Top 11 – Decided By You

JoJo the Yorkie and I curled up yesterday to pick the top 11 stories that we posted during 2011 here on Acorns On Glen.  Some of us curled up a little too much.  Can you see where JoJo starts and the faux fur blanket ends?  We started this blog in February as a way for us to realize and then give thanks for all the great things that happen in our lives.  You just can’t take life for granted and this blog is a great way for us to reflect and cherish the fact that we have great family, great friends and now a whole group of great people that visit Acorns On Glen on a frequent basis.  We’ve been blown away by the number of people that stop by and read our posts.  Thanks to all of you who have welcomed us into your lives this year.  The posts that have been visited the most are varied, but the majority of the top 11 seems to show that all of you, our readers, like good food and how to cook it.  Here are 2011’s top 11 posts:

1.  Funky Italian Stuffed Peppers

Our Notorius B.I.G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) heads the list with her great recipe for cubanelle peppers.

2.  South Carolina’s Unbelievable Angel Oak

You liked our sight-seeing trip down in Charleston, South Carolina.

3.  Time For Tuberous Begonias

The story about the begonia tubers I’ve had for years is our most viewed gardening post.

4.  Lots Of Bling – Christie’s Important Jewels

You like jewelry, eh?  Yes you do, big stones with lots of sparkle is what you like.

5.  The Man Behind The Curtain

My bio….you like me, you really like me.

6.  A Toadstool Birthday Tea

Our first guest blogger shows us how to throw a great birthday tea for the little ones.

7.  Luna Moth Or Not – You Be The Judge

A truly magnificent discovery that landed on the back side of our house and stayed for a few days so that we could marvel at it.

8.  A Field Trip To Le Farm Restaurant

Just like us, you enjoyed the cooking of Bill Taibe at his Westport, CT restaurant, Le Farm.

9.  Chocolate Caramel Tart With Fleur De Sel

Who can resist this sweet-salty flavor combination?  We can’t!

10.  Thinking Of My Citrus House Guests

Our little orange and lime trees impressed this year and even gave us a few pieces of fruit.

11.  Meatball Mania With Sauce

Finishing off just the way we started, another hit dish from Notorius B.I.G.

So here’s to everyone who has helped make Acorns On Glen a success.  We are truly humbled by the response, along with your words of encouragement, and can’t wait to share 2012 with you.  We want to wish everyone a Happy New Year (wish I could pass everyone a glass of champagne now) and may 2012 bring you great joy and happiness beyond your wildest imagination.

Deja Vu Spinach And A SARA Garden Confession

This is another story here on Acorns On Glen about planting spinach.  It’s a deja vu spinach story because I wrote about planting spinach in the Fall and harvesting it in early Spring during the beginning months after creation of this blog.  The only thing that is different in this story is the location of where I planted the new Fall crop of spinach.  I also hope that the harvesting of our early Spring spinach will be a new twist as well.  To be totally honest, I hope that my harvest of any vegetables will make it to the pages of Acorns On Glen.  If you review past posts, you will read a lot about planting and initial sprouting, but not anything on end-state harvesting other than a vegetable here or there.  Why?  Well as they say in real estate, location is everything, and so is the plot you use to build your raised bed gardens.

The trouble started in the late Fall of 2010, when I decided to have some local carpenters help me build my first raised bed garden.  I remember walking through the woods outside of our fenced in back yard and finding a spot that was clear of trees and absolutely had the bright sun hitting it for a good part of the day.  The garden was built over a few days and we actually used skinny trunks of trees to hold up the metal fencing that we used to keep the deer out of the garden.  Everything sounds great so far, right?  Yes, they were well laid plans except for one key element.  The trees surrounding the clearing in the forest which borders our house did not have leaves on their branches during my Fall scouting adventure.  So, of course there would be lots of sun shining throughout the day.  What I didn’t plan into the equation was that when the trees had their leaves return in Spring, that those leaves would block off a majority of sunlight through each and every day until they fell off again during Fall!  In other words, what I had built was a very expensive shade garden!

At first, when I realized that there were only a few hours of direct sunlight, I was in shock and really unable to process this new fact.  It had to be something else!  I sent a soil sample to my local agricultural extension, but found that I had really fertile soil.  Then I thought it was bad seeds, but maybe one pack could be bad, but 20-30 packs?  No way.  It was time to man up and face this little mistake.

Thinking back on it, I exhibited all of the signs described in the SARA emotional model.  Are you familiar with SARA?  When a dramatic event happens in people’s lives, their emotional process in dealing with the event is often referred to as the SARA model.  SARA stands for:

  • Shock–I can’t believe I could make such a stupid mistake.  That’s not like me!  This leaves on trees thing has to be wrong.
  • Anger–I am pissed that I spent so much money on a glorified shade garden!  How could this happen!
  • Resistance–I am going to keep planting and I know that these plants will grow.  It’s just a bad planting season.  This lasted most of the Summer as I planted seed after seed, plant after plant into the shaded raised beds.
  • Acceptance–I am going to plant some new Fall spinach in an empty area of my flower garden in the back yard and fit in other vegetable plants there as well when it is time to plant them.  It will be pretty.  Now where did I lay my new book on shade gardening in raised beds?

All Spring and Summer long, I would be in my resistance mode and keep planting and planting.  The seeds would sprout and grow about one inch and then that was it.  The plants I grew under the grow light in my basement never really grew much more from the size they were at planting.  Final result…I harvested three tomatoes, maybe a squash and a few small radishes.  Everything else….you guessed it, there wasn’t anything else.  So here’s to the garden of 2012.  Let’s hope for a harvest (any kind of harvest) and let’s hope it starts with early Spring spinach.

There are a few areas which are fairly large in size in my flower beds in the back yard that I usually plant annuals in during early Spring.  I’ve decided to use these areas for vegetables and quit with the annuals.  I am going to plant vegetables in them to mix with all the great flowers and bushes that are present.  For the spinach, I picked an area not far from our back door to plant it in over the weekend.

Again, I used the same spinach seed as I did a year ago:  one is a traditional smooth leaf and one a savoy or curly leaf.

  • ‘Space’ is the smooth-leaf variety.  It has medium dark green leaves with are upright and smooth to maybe a little savoyed.
  • ‘Tyee’ is the savoyed-leaf variety.  It is considered the standard of savoyed spinach for its bolt resistance and vigorous growth.  Dark green leaves with an upright growth habit.  I was told it was ideal for over-wintering.

To protect the seeds during the harsh Winter, I again used a floating row cover pinned down by pegs to buffer the planted seeds from the elements.

Just like last year, JoJo, our Yorkie was there to oversee the gardening that was occurring.  She sends her love to all.

The end result was the same instructions from last year, just in a new location and new hopes for more spinach than we can eat in the early Spring of 2012.  This time around I have the seeds, the equipment and pure, bright, unfiltered sun light.  This has to work!

So when you see me post something from now on about gardening, but primarily when you see me show a seed being put in the ground, please make me post the subsequent harvest.  Help keep me honest and, more importantly, keep me from SARA in 2012.  How was your gardening results for the 2011 season?

Changing A Thanksgiving Cactus Into A Christmas Cactus – A Chilling Tale

This is my ten-year old Christmas cactus.  I really should say Thanksgiving cactus because for most of its years with me it has bloomed on Thanksgiving and never on Christmas.  This is my own fault and one I am trying to rectify this year.  It’s all in the chilling.  More on that in a second.

My Christmas cactus is from the genus Schlumbergera.  Schlumbergera  is a genus of cactus from the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil.  Plants grow on trees or rocks in habitats which are generally shady with high humidity.  Most species of Schlumbergera have stems which resemble leaf-like pads joined one to the other and flowers which appear from areoles at the joints and tips of the stems.  This genus contains the popular house plants known by a variety of names including Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, Crab Cactus and Holiday Cactus.

Over the last several years, I have put my Christmas Cactus in a shady area in my back yard usually in the beginning of June time frame.  Frequent watering and feeding is about all I do to the plant.  In ten years, I have re-potted it into a bigger planter only once.  For me, I like the Christmas Cactus because it needs little care for the most part.  Here is the plant at its regular summer home in my back yard.

In the first weeks of November, when the weather gets much cooler and frost is possible, I have brought the Christmas Cactus indoors and placed it on my kitchen table.  This transition from cool to warmer temperatures has always triggered the plant to begin to grow flowers that then bloom around the Thanksgiving holiday.  I always think, why if this plant blooms at Thanksgiving do we call it a Christmas Cactus?  That’s when I made a chilling decision.

The decision was to keep my Christmas Cactus outside until the beginning of December–one month later than usual.  I’m thinking that the plant’s transition from cool to warmer temperatures is the blooming trigger, so if I delay that transition for one month then I can truly have a “Christmas” Cactus.  So that’s what I did and my plant came indoors on Saturday.  As a precaution, I did cover the plant up on extremely cold nights or nights when a heavy frost was predicted.  Here is my plant when under the covers.

While the plant looks healthy and nothing appears to have perished due to the extra month of cold weather conditions, I think that the next few days of the plant being in the house will determine its fate.  It will either make it and begin to bloom in the next few weeks or it could also shrivel up and leave us because of the additional cold it has endured over the last month.  Keep your fingers crossed with me–let’s hope it transitions without a hitch.

I’ll post pictures when the Christmas Cactus blooms (or an RIP notification if things don’t work out).  There is nothing as pretty as a bloomed Christmas Cactus with its fuchsia pink flowers bursting from all sides of the plant.  If it blooms, I can then officially and proudly call my Cactus a Christmas Cactus and all will be right in the world.  Do you have a Christmas Cactus in your home?